The most famous connection between Iceland and Canada is the migration of thousands of Icelanders to the East Coast of Canada around 1870. A part from this historical connection the two countries share some cultural attributes like humour, diversity and acceptance.
To get a better picture of modern Canada we reached out to Heimir Berg Vilhjálmsson who moved to Ottawa in 2013 with his family.
We had just moved back to Iceland from Milano, Italy, where we went to university. We both wanted to keep travelling and weren’t really ready to make Iceland our final home yet. I applied for a job with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was offered a position at the Embassy of Iceland in Canada. Needless to say, I accepted with great enthusiasm.
I had pictured Canada as a wonderful place but to be honest I didn’t know that much about it. I knew it was massive, had very different seasons and that the quality of life was great. But I was surprised at how magnificent it all was. The nature is stunning and people are so friendly. Canadians have this element of warmth that is hard to explain. You always feel welcome, especially if people are descendants of Icelanders or know a descendant. I would never have guessed how many people keep up their Icelandic family traditions from the 1800s when their ancestors, the Vesturfarar, migrated over.
Hands down the weather. We stayed in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, and their summers are perfect. So much warmer than we are used to. The autumn was lovely as well, the city has a lot of vegetation and is colourful and vibrant. There are squirrels running around, people hanging out at parks or cooling down by the canal. We felt we could almost escape city life by a trip into the forest. It was different for us Icelanders to see the season switch from summer to fall almost within a weekend, everything went from green to orange and red.
The long distances. We knew Canada was big, but we kept rediscovering just how far apart things were. We lived in Ontario and in that same province is Niagara Falls, so we thought it would be a relatively quick drive but the distance was the same as circling Iceland.
We had planned to visit a friend in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, but had to make other plans when we realized it was 3,000 kilometres one way, a long drive with a small child.
I can't say we did. At this time we had one child and my wife stayed at home with him, a luxury we might not had been able to have in Iceland. It was a wonderful time for them, and for me to know they were enjoying themselves in a beautiful city while I was at work.
Even though Ottawa is considered a safe city, we did notice children there face more restrictions than we are used to back home. Some playgrounds and schoolgrounds had fences and we could sense kids there have less freedom than in Iceland where most kids can roam free.
We spent most of our time around Ottawa and travelled around Ontario and Quebec. I’d say Gatineau Park was the most famous attraction we visited. The park is incredibly large, larger than Reykjavík. It’s an outdoor paradise where locals and visitors can hike, bike, ice skate and ski in winter.
Within the city we loved walking by Rideau Canal, a canal that runs right through the city and is a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site. To us, it looked like something out of a Disney film, it has a castle on one side and Parliament on the other. In winter, it freezes over and turns into an extremely long ice skating rink. We also made a few trips to Montreal and Toronto. But most of our time was spent in Ottawa and we felt great there. It’s an international city and we enjoyed visiting museums and historical places.
Heimir Berg Vilhjálmsson is a father of three, born and raised in Akranes. Today, he and his family live in Snæfellsnesbær on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula where Heimir works as the town's marketing and information manager. He and his wife Rut Ragnarsdóttir also own a specialty store called Útgerðin in Ólafsvík.